By Todd J. LeDuc
I had the opportunity recently to listen to research findings from “Project MAYDAY,” a research review of reported Maydays to ascertain lessons learned and key commonalities (projectmayday.net) One point that caught my attention was how quickly incident commanders (ICs) easily became overwhelmed with information transmissions during a declared Mayday evolution. This presents a challenge not just during Maydays but during fire service responses to many types of incidents. As fire service leaders, it is essential that we assure our personnel have the right information, and that it goes to all the right people at exactly the right time so everyone is empowered to make the right decisions. This goal becomes challenging given the wide breadth of available data from both within individual responder organizations (fire departments, etc.) as well as open-source information from other external entities such as building departments, tax assessors, and power and water companies. First responder software technology solutions must be able to access, package, and deliver in an easy-to-understand and actionable format during time of event or crisis. This presents what can be a formidable challenge to software technology vendors. For fire service leaders, this consideration is crucial when it comes to choosing the technology that best enhances both responder performance and safety.
Fire departments need mobile technology solutions at their point of contact in their responding apparatus that can provide actionable data for firefighter situational awareness. Many departments have information, but it may not be in a format or domain that is easily accessible at the time of emergency. It is situational awareness that provides responders with a “strategic edge” of survival. Much like situational units under the National Incident Management System (NIMS) guide’s operational planning, so must specific situational data guide response preparation. Data such as preplans and hazardous materials storage or any hazardous conditions may be gleaned from fire prevention activities, inspections, or company-level target inspections and walkthroughs. Firefighters may use these opportunities to identify floor plans and building construction type, occupant status, and the presence of safety features and water supply.
Although operations and prevention sides of the fire department may contain valuable information, open-source sites may have accessible and important information as well. Property tax or appraisers may have floor plans, and building departments are certain to have notifications on additions or remodeling through the permitting process. Open-source information is extremely important as preplanning in many jurisdictions does not include residential properties, where many fireground and civilian injuries may occur. This becomes even more essential since the realities of structural firefighting are often determined by the presence of residential basements, pools, solar panels, and other nuances than can affect critical tactical decisions. Local water purveyors will likely have water supply and distribution systems data.
Having actionable data from fire prevention or community risk reduction efforts may also enhance morale between prevention staff and operations personnel as there is clear and meaningful results-oriented building information that is easily accessible and could save lives. Operations personnel would also benefit from having such robust data information already preloaded, allowing them to only verify and validate during preplanning walkthrough site visits–better than having no informational available at all and thus ease their work load.
Overhead satellite and aerial imagery also provide invaluable overviews of the location of the incident and surrounding areas for enhanced situational awareness, allowing for the a virtual 360 of the incident prior to arrival. The ability to visually assess location hazards, structures, and exposures prior to arrival provides a significant tactical advantage to responders and ICs, alike allowing early formulation of strategy and tactics in response to the reported nature of the event. Aerial images also allow for preplanned establishment of staging areas for responding resources and more orderly flow of resources. Additionally, for roadway incidents, access to real-time live camera feeds from Department of Transportation or local municipal cameras can provide vital information on hazards, virtual size-ups of the incidents, and situational awareness of evolving conditions. The ability to incorporate GIS mapping also allows for 3-D perspective of buildings, infrastructure, and resource availability.
Many departments have begun incorporating drone technology into their response profiles and asset toolbox. The ability to incorporate this real-time footage also offers an advantage to have a complete overhead 360º view of situational awareness.
Additional opportunities may exist, given the critical importance of staffing and response, for GPS technologies to allow for technology applications to identify where alarm resources are coming from, are currently at, and the length of time prior to their arriving as an effective response force (ERF). This real-time information allows incident commanders to assess resource deployment and assist in decision making and resource management of critical tasks. Similar technologies for tracking of on-scene personnel are critical to accountability on the fire ground.
Having a common data platform with surrounding mutual and automatic aid partners is an essential component from a responder safety stand point. Assuring all responding partner agencies are able to access the same vital information breaks down common “silos” and creates an open-source public safety domain for all critical stakeholders.
Todd J. LeDuc, MS, CFO, CEM, FIFirE, is a 27-year veteran of and an assistant chief with Broward County (FL) Fire Rescue, an internally accredited metro fire department. He is also the secretary of the International Association of Fire Chief’s Association Safety, Health & Survival Board. He has a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, is a peer reviewer for agency accreditation and professional credentialing. He is a credentialed chief officer, a certified emergency manager, and a fellow in the Institute of Fire Engineers. You can reach LeDuc by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.